The rise of TikTok in healthcare

By Lindsay Dayanik


We have had several excellent experiences working with TikTok creators recently, and I find myself continually suggesting this flourishing new social platform to healthcare marketers.

However, these suggestions are sometimes met with trepidation. And understandably so. TikTok is surrounded by misconceptions about who it is suitable for, including:

  • Are the audiences too young?
  • Would any professional audiences use the platform and see it as a credible source of information?
  • Are the ‘right’ brands present to show there’s interest in the health space?
  • Can it be regulated?
  • Is this type of content relevant for patients and healthcare professionals? 

In the following article, I’ll take a tour of these questions and offer some suggestions for navigating the enigmatic world of TikTok for the first time. You might be surprised to learn that it’s not as difficult or restrictive as first thought.

A TikTok refresher course

TikTok is a video creation and sharing social platform that has grown phenomenally in the four years since its inception.

The platform features videos that are up to 15 seconds long (when combined, they can last up to 60 seconds). People interact with videos by scrolling through their feed and like, comment, or share. Brands have the freedom to add editing effects and background music to their videos and it is easy to do this, making the platform user-friendly for newcomers.

TikTok is a never-ending stream of trending content, sounds and engaging challenges with a vast (and growing) user base and an upbeat environment. This is what makes it such an appealing proposition for brands looking for new ways to engage with consumers.

Plus…you don’t need an account to join in. You can get started by creating content on TikTok through their ‘creators’ – so it’s easy to test the waters before making a commitment.

Organic reach outperforming other channels

One thing that makes TikTok uniquely valuable to brands is that it runs on a content graph. This differentiates it from other social media platforms that run on a social graph. The content each TikTok user sees is not limited to that created by the people they follow. Instead, the algorithm serves content entirely based on users’ interests as well as the videos they watch and engage with. As a result, TikTok shows them more of what they love.

This is a positive for brands because it enables them to reach a large audience without needing to have any followers at all, so it’s a great place to test and learn. As an open platform where anyone can be discovered, the flow of content is not obstructed by the need to reach followers.

In essence, anyone can create content around a topic and both small and large brands have the same chance of reaching the same audience.

Cost-effective platform

TikTok can be a highly cost-effective way to produce content for your brand. You can use it as little or as much as you want to push campaigns, products or educational messages that feed into your wider strategy.

Better still, content created on TikTok can also work well on Instagram Reels and can be embedded on your website to showcase your product or campaign. Because content created for TikTok can be re-used elsewhere, it will continue receiving views and working hard, maximising your ROI.

Trust the creators

As with all social platforms, TikTok creators know their audience better than anyone. They spend day and night engaging with other users and creating content that responds to shared interests.

This is why, as a brand, you must let them ‘do their own thing’ to get the best out of TikTok. Sure, you want to promote your brand in a certain light, but let the creators suggest how best to achieve that. Remember: this is not an ad. You’ll get more engagement in the long term if you keep this in mind.

In the healthcare sector, #DoctorsOfTikTok or #TikTokDocs have thousands of videos and millions of views between them. Videos range from a day in the life of a doctor to facts about human anatomy and medical updates.

A vast number of these are created by medical student creators, but there are also board-certified physicians with a TikTok presence. Areas covered including gynaecology and plastic surgery to name just two. Because of the ready access to younger audiences, it’s a space with huge potential for public health messaging and education. This is particularly true in the era of misinformation, as Dr Rose Marie Leslie says:

“It’s very important that physicians exist on social media to be a source for the public to find evidence-based health information”.

Finding the right balance of information, entertainment and medical ethics can sometimes be hard for healthcare brands. That is why individuals like Dr Rose Marie are producing videos that remind medical professionals about the code of conduct to follow when creating content within the app:

“Some medical professional TikTok’ers are doing inappropriate things, like giving out facts that aren’t evidence-based,” she says.

This echoes a general trend: the rise in other professionals stepping in and highlighting content that’s unprofessional and potentially misleading. The creators are becoming the regulators in a sense.

Quick tips for getting your brand up and running on TikTok
Don’t recycle content

It’s tempting to take posts from LinkedIn, Twitter or Instagram and repost them on TikTok. This isn’t the best way to engage your audience, because users interact with content differently on TikTok than on other platforms. Videos need to be shorter, snappier and able to immediately grab attention.

Be aware of trends

This doesn’t just mean topics that keep appearing. On TikTok, trends can mean hashtags, challenges and even sounds. If a song or soundbite is trending, it’ll come up first when you add sound to your videos.

Use TikTok to educate others on your specialism

Don’t be frightened to put something new out there. If your content is valuable and you have something to educate others about, then TikTok is the platform for you. The more authentic the content, the better. Remember why you’re using the platform and be confident about communicating the one thing you want to get across in your video. TikTok is a platform that encourages firsts and rewards creators that inspire positive change.

Education is the most powerful tool that TikTok can offer.

Finally, a quick look at a few healthcare brands who are really owning TikTok…


The French Red Cross team are using TikTok to educate young people about first aid via their #PLSchal¬lenge, inspiring audiences to create first aid inspired dance moves. So far, the campaign has reached 7 milllion young followoers. That’s a big step towards the French Government’s target of delivering first aid training to 80% of the French population by 2030.

Novartis’ Adakveo DoU social challenge

In 2020, Novartis launched a campaign asking people to ‘make a move’ and raise awareness around sickle cell anaemia and its branded treatment, Adakveo.

Fronted by hip-hop dancer Stephen “tWitch” Boss, the ‘Do U’ campaign invited audiences to create their own version of a dance Stephen choreographed for the project. People submitted their videos to be featured on the Adakveo website and social channels. This was the first-ever dance challenge launched by a prescription pharmaceutical brand.

The DoU challenge resulted in 200 user-generated video posts with the hashtag, including one from a patient with sickle cell anaemia, posting from hospital. Novartis saw a 400% increase in traffic to the Adakveo website, with 94% of participants also posting comments to social.

How do you know if TikTok is suitable for your brand?

Identifying which channels work best for your brand’s strategy can be overwhelming at the best of times. Explore a new platform is even more daunting. The solution is to partner with an agency that has experience and expertise in healthcare social media, allowing your brand to use TikTok campaigns in a regulated and creative way.

We are TrunkBBI, a healthcare digital marketing agency that provides intelligent, multichannel solutions. We’ve been helping global organisations activate, engage, and convert audiences since 2011.